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In Spanish, armadillo means "little armored one" because of its leathery armor shell. The nine-banded armadillo (referring to the number of bands on the armor) is the most common type in the United States.
Its armor is its main defense mechanism and protector. Most armadillos flee from predators (often through thorny patches). Only the three-banded armadillo, found in South America, can roll up into a ball when threatened. Others can not because they have too many plates on their shells.
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Armadillo legs are short but they can move quickly and despite their dense armor, they are good swimmers. To keep from drowning, they will fill their stomach and intestines with air. They can do the dog paddle and, when crossing small bodies of water (like streams), they can hold their breath (for 4-6 minutes) and walk along the bottom.
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Diet and Habitat
Armadillos primarily eat insects. Like their cousin, the anteater, they have strong claws to dig for food and long, sticky tongues to slurp it up. Because heavy chewing is not required, armadillos do not have many teeth and their teeth have no enamel.
Armadillos live in a variety of places but prefer to live in wetlands with a lot of shade and sandy soil for easy digging. They use their strong claws to dig burrows (their dens) which can range in depth from 20" to 20'.
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The female armadillo can delay the implantation of a fertilized egg for up to 14 weeks after conception. The delay is believed to be caused by stress. They are also the only known mammal to almost always give birth to 4 identical babies from the same egg.
Baby armadillos are born with their eyes open and, within a few hours, they are able to move around. The soft leathery skin they are born with hardens after a few days.
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• Armadillos can see but their vision is poor. If you were to hold still and remain quiet, it is possible an armadillo can bump right into you.
• Armadillos have the ability to jump vertically into the air (about 3-4 feet) when startled.
• A vaccine for leprosy was developed because of armadillos.
• In the wild, the lifespan of an armadillo is 4-7 years. In captivity, they can survive up to 10 years.
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 Smith, Larry L. and Robin W. Doughty. 1984. The Amazing Armadillo: Geography of a Folk Critter. University of Texas Press, Austin Texas.
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Nine-Banded Armadillo image courtesy of http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:9-banded-armadillo.jpg
Armadillos image by Diana